The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the U.S. economy a curveball unlike any we have experienced. As businesses throughout the nation – and the world – closed their doors and individuals were told to shelter in place, the majority of us joined the remote workforce. Even as states loosened restrictions, many workers have continued to work remotely and productively from home. Others are returning to the workplace even as we sort through an uncertain future.
To reemerge successfully, HR managers must stay informed of laws that are changing at a rapid pace. How should they manage COVID-19 workplace issues? Which employees can be on extended leave? What are the rules for a remote workforce? We’ll begin with the legislation, bearing in mind that GPP’s COVID-19 Business Assistance and Resource Center explains the legislation in fuller detail.
Understanding the Legislation
Congress approved the historic $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide pandemic relief to individuals and businesses adversely affected by the virus. One of its core programs is the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to eligible small businesses if they meet certain qualifications. If an employer is unable to find qualified employees for open positions, or if COVID-19 operating restrictions prevent them from restoring business operations, they can still receive full loan forgiveness. The rules for receiving loan forgiveness are complex. Watch for information from GPP as we provide updates and summaries of loan forgiveness guidance as it becomes available.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law in March in light of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus. The law requires certain companies to provide their employees with emergency paid sick leave or expanded family medical leave. HR managers must understand specific provisions of the FFCRA, which is in effect through December 31, 2020.
Forming a Multidisciplinary Team
Once you understand what is required under these programs, be sure to have the right team in place to develop, implement and monitor your return-to-work plan. In addition to HR, include members of your legal team – whether internal or external – and consult with IT, operations and, as necessary, external public health advisors for additional guidance. You may need help in reconfiguring space and/or understanding privacy issues for employees affected by COVID-19.
You’ll need to remain flexible as federal, state and local governments issue additional guidelines regarding the FFCRA, PPP and additional measures.
See COVID-19: Guidance for Employees and Managers from The Texas Department of State Health Services, which includes a Q&A and links to useful resources.
COVID-19 Workplace Safety
Educate all employees on preventive measures that reduce the spread of COVID-19. Communicate that you‘re conducting health screenings, limiting the number of employees and visitors to the workplace and that you have procedures in place if any employee experiences symptoms of the virus.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace, which includes the use of face coverings, gloves, eye protection and more, will depend on specific industry standards and the type of work your employees perform. Frequent handwashing, social distancing, temperature checks and the availability of hand sanitizers can help all employees feel more comfortable about returning to work. Bear in mind that OSHA standards also require that employers provide a safe work environment for third-party subcontractors and independent contractors. The CDC has published guidance to assist employers on actions they should take.
Additionally, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) works with federal, state and local officials and agencies that monitor the pandemic to advise Texas employers about reopening the state for business. It also helps employers who need shared work programs to mitigate losses from businesses that have slowed during the pandemic, and helps employees understand their unemployment benefits. The TWC provides an updated FAQ that addresses employer questions.
Training and Education for the Remote Workforce
Employees must know what is expected of them, whether they return to the workplace or continue to work remotely. This calls for increased training, more communication and setting clear expectations. Depending on your business and that of your customers or patients, you should be vigilant of HIPAA and other confidentiality laws, especially because your remote workforce is working on multiple devices, some of which may not be as secure as their work laptops. Watch for upcoming blogs as address cybersecurity and increased business risks because of the pandemic.
Your HR team should develop documented policies for remote workers. They need to understand what is expected of them. Chances are you will have a mixed workforce, making ongoing communication vital to ensure seamless collaboration. No matter how you communicate with customers, vendors and industry partners, you want to come across as one company.
Our new e-book, “How Employers Can Plan for Covid-19 Reemergence and Business Continuity,” focuses on four critical issues that business owners must navigate to be successful during this critical time.
You may download our new e-book by completing a brief form.
For more information on managing HR issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact Debbie Ames at 214-635-2588.
If your business needs assistance during this challenging time, the Business Advisory Group at Goldin Peiser & Peiser can help you determine the best course to take. Contact us at CARETeam@GPPcpa.com.
Note: This content is accurate as of the date published above and is subject to change. Please seek professional advice before acting on any matter contained in this article.